Fri, September 20, 2013

So far, so good for Olympics organizers

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


A spectacular Opening Ceremony kicked off an Olympics that's been running smoothly so far.


LONDON - At The Coach and Horses pub in the West End theatre district, the duo of Pat and Dave are at the piano leading the bar in a singalong.

Some Monkees (Daydream Believer), some Tom Jones (“Why, why, why Delilah?) and Fats Domino (Blueberry Hill).

Pat and Dave’s Soho Singalong usually packs them in here, but on this night there’s enough room for two or three couples, so inclined, to dance around between the bar and the upright piano against the front wall.

“Usually it’s packed in here,” said Dave, or maybe it was Pat — it’s hard to keep them straight — “but with the Olympics on, most of the locals are staying home. They’re not coming out.”

The tip jar held by Dave — or maybe it was Pat — was only about a third full which, symbolically, told the story for the local economy.

For retailers, the glass is definitely half empty.

Halfway through these Olympic Games, which saw the greatest show on Earth dropped into the maze of twisting, narrow streets of one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities, the traffic and logistical nightmare that some had envisioned has not materialized.

In large part, it seems, it’s because many Londoners heeded the dire warnings of traffic Armageddon from politicians and have simply avoided becoming ensnared in gridlock.

Navigating the streets at an Olympic Games is the discipline in which everybody competes, but, so far, it’s been a gold-medal performance. Shuttles are running on time and often don’t even have to use the controversial lanes on major streets that have been designated for the exclusive use of Olympic vehicles. Mobile signs now advise drivers of the times in which they can use the Olympic lanes.

LOCOG, the Games organizing committee, said traffic in London was down 17% from normal levels.

Security was a huge concern on the eve of the Games when the private security company contracted to provide upwards of 10,000 workers to man checkpoints came up about 4,000 bodies short. About 1,200 soliders, who were on standby, were called up to fill the breech. At the rowing venue at Eton-Dorney, soldiers manned the x-ray machines and were extremely courteous and efficient.

What’s been good for the people who have to get around at the Olympic Games hasn’t been good for local retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs.

The British Hospitality Association said there was a drop in business of 40% in the week leading up to the Games.

Traffic at the London Zoo is down by a similar amount.

Here in the West End, the theatre business is taking a pounding.

Nica Burns, a theatre producer with six venues, says she is experiencing here worst week of the year when you would think the West End would be teeming with Olympic visitors looking for a theatre fix when not spectating.

“For my six theatres, last week was the worst this year,” she said. “I think the Olympics are great, but I feel like I’ve been the bull’s-eye for the archery competition.”

If you’re looking for a hotel, there are deals to be had. The website lastminute.com had 92 hotel options Saturday afternoon starting at £79 a night. While there was speculation going into the Games that average hotel prices might be doubled this summer to £213, lastminute.com reported the average price was in fact £112, down from £133 last summer.

Attendance at the venues was spotty in the first week and LOCOG found another use for all those soldiers: they started having them be seat fillers. That was a good deal for all involved.

As far as the competitions were concerned, the biggest story was the banning of four teams from the badminton doubles competition, including the top-seeded team from China, for intentionally losing matches to get a more favourable matchup in the next round.

It was a black eye for the Olympics, but pointed out the folly of having a format in which it was beneficial to lose.

Along with the athletes, the venues have emerged as some of the real stars of these games.

The beach volleyball venue in front of Buckingham Palace has been a huge hit. People strolling down Parliament St. can hear the cheers going up.

The first week of the Games has gone surprisingly smoothly given the forecasts of bumper-to-bumper traffic and a centuries-old subway system that had people wondering if it could handle the strain.

So far, so good.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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